This moderate, five-mile hike loops around five ponds in Ringwood State Park—Gatun Pond, Brushwood Pond, Weyble Pond, Glasmere Ponds and Swan Pond—following woods roads and footpaths, and it climbs to a viewpoint at the crest of Mount Defiance. For much of the way, the hike follows multi-use trails, which are open to mountain bikes, but bikers are required to yield to hikers. Dogs are permitted on leash. The hike should take about three-and-a-half hours.
The Five Ponds Loop was recently blazed by volunteers of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. The intent is to blaze the entire loop with pink-on-white blazes but, at present, a portion of the loop is blazed with green-on-white blazes. These blazes should be replaced with pink-on-white blazes later in October.
To reach the start of the hike, take NJ Route 4 West to NJ 208 North and continue onto I-287 South. Take Exit 57, bear right at the fork, and proceed north on Skyline Drive. At the end of Skyline Drive, turn right and follow Greenwood Lake Turnpike north for 1.5 miles to Sloatsburg Road. Turn right and follow Sloatsburg Road for 2.1 miles to Morris Avenue, then turn right and follow Morris Avenue for 1.4 miles to its end at the Skylands Manor section of Ringwood State Park. Pass between two stone eagles and continue past a toll booth (during the summer season, a parking fee may be charged). Proceed ahead and follow signs to Parking Lot C.
You will notice triple pink-on-white blazes on both sides of Parking Lot C. Bear right (south) (do not begin at the kiosk) and follow the pink-on-white-blazed Five Ponds Loop up a woods road, bearing right at the fork. Soon, you’ll join another woods road that comes in from the left, the route of the white-blazed Crossover Trail. The pink-on-white and white trails jointly climb gently on the woods road, then level off. After climbing a little more and curving to the left, you’ll reach a junction with the red-on-white-blazed Ringwood-Ramapo Trail. Here, the Crossover Trail leaves to the right, but you should continue ahead on the woods road, now following only the pink-on-white blazes of the Five Ponds Loop.
The trail now begins to descend. Along the way, you’ll pass on the left the start of the pink-with-black-stripe-on-white-blazed Five Ponds Connector, but continue ahead on the woods road. After curving to the right, you’ll cross a gravel road at the base of the descent. The Crossover Trail is visible on the right here, but you should continue ahead. Just beyond, the Crossover Trail joins from the right. Both trails cross a stream and then bear left, leaving the woods road.
Follow the joint Five Ponds Loop/Crossover Trail, which heads uphill, goes around a switchback and continues gently uphill on an attractive footpath, constructed by the Jersey Off-Road Bicycle Association (JORBA). After passing a balanced rock on the left and crossing a woods road, you’ll reach the crest of a rise. Here, the Crossover Trail leaves on the left, but you should continue ahead, following the Five Ponds Loop. Just beyond, the Five Ponds Loop joins a woods road that comes in from the right. The road curves to the right, climbing gradually.
Be alert for a right turn, where the Five Ponds Loop leaves the road and climbs more steeply on a footpath. After a short climb, it turns right onto a woods road. Just ahead, there is a viewpoint on the left over Gatun Pond (the water level of the pond is currently very low), a good spot to take a break.
Continue ahead on the road, climbing gently, and bear right at a fork. When you reach the next intersection, continue to follow the pink-on-white blazes. A short distance beyond, you’ll reach a four-way intersection, where you turn left, then bear right just ahead and descend to Brushwood Pond, crossing a woods road along the way. At the base of the descent, a short side trail on the right leads to a view of the pond.
The Five Ponds Loop now emerges onto a large field (on weekends, you may notice illegal use of this area by all-terrain vehicles). Continue across the field. Towards the northern end of the field, you’ll notice a pink-on-white blaze on a tree to the right. Turn right and continue along a woods road. To avoid a flooded section of the road, the Five Ponds Loop bears right onto a footpath, then joins another road. After crossing between two small ponds, the road climbs a little.
Just ahead, follow the Five Ponds Loop as it turns right onto a footpath, leaving the road and rejoining the Crossover Trail. The footpath soon ends at a T-intersection with the woods road just south of Weyble Pond. Follow the pink-on-white and white blazes as they turn right, rejoining the road, and follow the road around the southern end of the pond. In a short distance, the Crossover Trail leaves to the right. Just ahead, a rock ledge on the left, below the road, offers a view over Weyble Pond (the level of this pond is also currently very low).
Continue to follow the Five Ponds Loop as it heads north on the woods road. The trail turns left at the next intersection, then bears right at the following intersection. About half a mile from Weyble Pond, the Five Ponds Loop ends (temporarily) at a junction with the green-on-white-blazed Halifax Trail. Turn left onto the Halifax Trail, leaving the woods road, and head downhill.
At the base of the descent, the Halifax Trail crosses a woods road, turns right, then immediately rejoins the woods road. It now passes between the two Glasmere Ponds, with good views over the northern pond. The trail goes around a gate and reaches an intersection with another woods road. It turns left and follows the road for 100 feet, then turns right onto a footpath and begins a steady climb of Mt. Defiance on switchbacks.
At the top of the climb, the Halifax Trail crosses the blue-triangle-on-white-blazed Skylands Trail and the red-on-white-blazed Ringwood-Ramapo Trail. A short distance beyond, as the Halifax Trail bears left, follow an unmarked side trail that leads right to a west-facing viewpoint, with the hills of Tranquility Ridge County Park visible in the distance.
The Halifax Trail now descends steadily on switchbacks, following an old carriage road. At the base of the descent, the Halifax Trail ends at a junction with the white-blazed Crossover Trail (here, the pink-on-white blazes of the Five Ponds Loop resume). Turn left and follow the Five Ponds Loop/Crossover Trail along a wide road for about a quarter mile. When you reach a fork in the road, bear right and continue on the pink-on-white-blazed Five Ponds Loop, which begins to descend. Swan Pond is just to the right. After passing a paved road that goes off to the right, follow the Five Ponds Loop as it turns left onto a gravel road. After crossing a bridge over a stream, the Five Ponds Loop bears right at a fork and continues to its end at Parking Lot C, where the hike began.
By Daniel D. Chazin